Truman Capote's short story Music for Chameleons provided the inspiration for this work. Welcher's music sets the stage for Capote's story with its use of cricket calls, bamboo wind chimes, and spring coil. Bits of Mozart piano sonatas are quoted throughout by the keyboard instruments. Chameleon Music is a difficult piece that requires ten players.
Chameleon Music, composed for ten percussionists by Dan Welcher, is based on a short story by Truman Capote, entitled "Music for Chameleons." Welcher writes:
"More a vignette about a person and a place than an actual story, the piece described a visit by Capote to Martinique, and the home of a woman there. She lives on the edge of the jungle, and had on her terrace a grand piano that had been played by a number of famous visitors. The music she played for Capote was Mozart, and the result of the little recital was the inspiration for my Piece. It seemed that the little lizards living nearby had become accustomed to her playing and had grown to be quite discerning in their taste. The composer they responded most to was Mozart whenever she would play a sonata of his, the chameleons came out in droves from the jungle. They would sneak tentatively forward at first, then (emboldened by Wolfgang?) come right up to lie at her feet while she played. When she finished, she'd stamp her feet on the tiles, and the lizards would 'scatter, like the shower of sparks from an exploding star.'
"The music describes this scene, but more than that. It attempts to show in a rather abstract fashion how music Mozart's music, specifically can cast a spell over otherwise uncivilized beings. The piece has four subtitled sections: 'The Jungle at Night,' 'The Chameleon Circle,' 'The Spell,' and 'The Retreat.'
In the first section, marimbas provide a chordal curtain of sound, with four kinds of wind chimes adding a scent of the tropics. After the atmosphere of the place has been established, the second section proceeds immediately. 'The Chameleon Circle' presents the cast of characters, in the form of three different motives (played on xylophone, glockenspiel, and bass marimba respectively). These could be thought of as some of the chameleons waiting at the edge of the jungle but they carry within themselves the seeds of the music of their 'favorite composer.' In the ensuing passage, the tempo picks up and we hear these characters growing bolder. When the tempo slows again, we are in "The Spell." No fewer than four Mozart sonatas are quoted: K. 279, K. 281, K. 330, and K. 332. Elements of the melodic turns in these fragments seem somehow familiar, and in fact we`ve just heard them slightly disguised in `The Chameleon Circle.` As the Mozart music overlaps and combines in ways in which Mozart never intended (but which, I think, he might have approved...) the night is filled with charmed animals, crickets, and of course, chameleons. At the height of their reverie, though, there is a stamping of feet a scattering of tiny legs and the sounds of the jungle at night return, with the barest echoes of Mozart still lingering in the breeze."
About the OU Percussion Press
In 1977 the OU Percussion Orchestra and Ensemble embarked on a project that developed into a national model for the encouragement and development of new music for percussion ensemble. The OU Percussion Ensemble Commissioning Series regularly engages outstanding composers to write works for this medium. The Commissioning Series is responsible for the creation of some of today`s staples in the percussion ensemble repertoire.
In 1983 the University of Oklahoma funded the establishment of the OU Percussion Press, a non-profit extension of the percussion area. Through the Percussion Press, the commissioning series compositions plus other works expressly written for the OU Percussion Orchestra and Ensembles have been made available for purchase and performance by the world`s leading percussion ensembles. The Percussion Press` catalog numbers more than 50 works, all published in a non-profit venture as a service to the profession.
Grade Level: 5
Number of Players: 10
Listen to Recordings
Player 1 (crotales - upper octave, glockenspiel, xylophone)
Player 2 (vibraphone, glass wind chimes, crotales - shared w. P.1)
Player 3 (4.3-octave marimba, ceramic wind chimes, glockenspiel - shared w/ P.1)
Player 4 (4.3-octave marimba, tom-toms - may be shared w/ P. 6)
Player 5 (3 suspended cymbals, bell tree, cricket-call, flexatone, castanets, auto spring coil, high triangle, bass drum, tam-tam, brake drums)
Player 6 (5 tom-toms, 5 brake drums - shared w/ P. 5, 3 suspended cymbals, 5 temple blocks, cricket-call, low triangle, 2 pitched high gongs, tam-tam - shared w/ P. 5)
Player 7 (crotales - lower octave, glockenspiel, xylophone)
Player 8 (vibraphone, metal wind chimes, crotales - shared w/ P. 7)
Player 9 (4.3-octave marimba, vibraphone - shared w/ P. 8)
Player 10 (5-octave marimba, bamboo wind chimes)